Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Formed from the Heart of the Eternal Word

September 08, 2018
Domenico Ghirlandaio, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin

Just as the first Eve, radiant with life and innocence, was formed from Adam’s rib, so Mary, resplendent and immaculate, was formed from the heart of the Eternal Word who, through the operation of the Holy Ghost, as the liturgy teaches, wished to be the one to model this body and soul that would one day serve as His tabernacle and altar.

This is the sublime meaning of the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. It is the dawn that announces the day rising behind the eternal hills.

The origins of this feast are to be found in the East, where it is mentioned in the sermons of Andrew of Crete. In Rome, even at the time of Honorius I (625-638), this day was still the feast of the dedication of Sant’Adriano al Foro, built on the site of the ancient Curia Hostilia. The feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin seems to date back no further than Pope Sergius I (687-701).

When the clergy and the Roman people were gathered in the ancient senatorial Curia, they would sing the introit Exsurge, Domine before the procession, with the doxology from the feast of February 2.

At the end, the pope would recite the collect, then the procession would set off barefoot for Esquiline Hill, passing through the Forum of Nerva, the Forum and Baths of Trajan, and the titles of Eudoxia and St. Praxedes.

As the procession drew near the Liberian basilica, they would intone the litany that replaced the Introit and Kyrie that day.

According to Cencius Camerarius, in the 8th century the eighteen images of Mary belonging to as many diaconal churches were carried on this day. The pope would take off his shoes at Sant’Adriano, but during the walk, he would use slippers that he would leave on the threshold of St. Mary Major.

As soon as the procession entered the basilica, they would intone the Te Deum and the schola would wash the pontiff’s feet with warm water, after which he would prepare to celebrate the solemn Sacrifice.

Mary became the Mother of the Word Incarnate for us sinners. How then could she not also be our own good Mother?